For many gundog owners, beating is their first introduction to the shooting scene.
Like many sports, game shooting has a language and culture all of its own, and it can seem quite ‘exclusive’ and daunting for newcomers.
If you have no experience at all of participating in a shoot in any capacity, I strongly recommend that you have a go at beating first and foremost.
With one or two provisos
1. Leave your dog at home
That’s right. Don’t take your dog with you the first time you go beating.
Taking the dog out is probably one of the main reasons you want to go beating.[wp_ad_camp_1]But there is huge potential for a dog to cause all sorts of problems in the beating line if you and he are both novices.
If you spend the whole day worrying about him and focusing on him you won’t be able to fully take on board any instructions you are given, or to really learn from the whole experience.
If you don’t spend the whole day focusing on the dog, he will probably run riot and at best you won’t be asked back.
Learn the ropes without him
Get a grasp of how the shoot works, who does what, and how dogs and people are supposed to behave. Then you will be in a better position to assess whether or not your dog is actually ready for, or even suitable for, the beating line.
2. Your fitness
The next proviso is about your welfare and safety. Some shoots, take place in very demanding terrain. Virtually all pheasant shoots contain hills. Sometimes very steep ones that you may be required to walk up several times. Beating is very hard work.
If you are seriously unfit, or unhealthy, you may be putting yourself at risk. You also risk inconveniencing everyone else involved in the day if you collapse at the end of the second drive with chest pains, or a torn muscle.
Remember that this is not just a walk in the countryside. At times you will be pushing through dense undergrowth and after fifteen minutes of lifting your leg over huge clumps of heather with every step you take, you might well feel like weeping and wish you had never heard of beating or shooting at all.
I don’t want to put you off, but you need to be reasonably fit at the start of the season. If you prepare yourself, you will benefit hugely from the demands of the exercise and are far less likely to be injured.
Finding a shoot to beat on
Getting involved in shooting can be difficult. A personal invite is ideal but shooting folk can be wary of strangers due to previous experiences with animal rights fanatics.
You may need to gain their trust and demonstrate your enthusiasm before being asked along. Many shoots hold their shoot lunch or supper at a local rural pub. And this can be a good place to meet and get to know beaters and other shoot members.
You should also consider joining NOBs, the National Organisation for Beaters and Pickers Up.
They have a chat forum for members where you can sometimes find opportunities to go beating. They also send out regular newsletters with information and updates.
Another good way to get involved on a shoot is to take your dog along to a gundog instructor for a few lessons. He or she will be able to introduce you to a local shoot and also to let you know if your dog is up to the required standard. You can follow this link to find out more about getting into gundog fieldwork
What does beating involve?
In very simple terms, each shoot ground is divided into ‘drives’. Each drive is an area of countryside containing the habitat that pheasants enjoy and populated with the pheasants themselves.
The shoot manager decides which way he wants or expects the pheasants to fly and lines up his ‘guns’ (people who are shooting) along this edge of the drive.
The beaters are lined up along the opposite end of the drive. Their object is to walk in a line towards the guns, making some noise and disturbance. Dogs may or may not be used to aid in this process.
There is great potential for things to go wrong in a badly managed beating line. If the line gets uneven or straggly, if beaters start taking detours to avoid thick undergrowth, or to stop for a chat, the pheasants will run back between the beaters and the guns won’t get to see them.
If the line goes too quickly, or if a dog rampages about, the birds may flush all at once in a great cloud, so that the guns have little chance of shooting more than one or two.
The idea is to flush the birds in little groups, a few at a time. A good beating line is well managed, keeps a nice line, and contains beaters that pay close attention to instructions at all times.
What to take with you
If you turn up with a stout stick it will be appreciated, but if you don’t have one, don’t worry. Most shoots will have spare ones. Or you may just be given a flag to wave.
The idea is to get the birds moving forwards and away from the beaters. Tapping with sticks and waving flags is all a part of the process. You will also be expected to make a noise. But you’ll soon get the idea when you see what everyone else is doing.
I suggest you take a small bottle of water to tuck in your pocket as beating can be thirsty work. And you will need to enquire whether or not you should take a packed lunch. Some shoots provide all refreshments.
What to wear
You don’t walk around things when you beat, you walk through them. That includes thorn thickets and brambles. In some parts of the country you can shred your rambler’s outfit before ten o’clock in the morning.
What you really need is a tough thornproof jacket and some very tough trousers or preferably thornproof leggings. These are not pretty but they do help ensure that your trousers survive to fight another day. They also keep you dry if it rains.
If this is your first time and you are not sure if you will go again, borrow some thornproofs or wear something very old that won’t matter if it rips.
Beaters clothes all tend to be the same colour, a sort of sludge to olive green. If you turn up in lilac or bright blue, you will stand out like a sore thumb. Just so that you know!
Beating goes on no matter what the weather. No matter how wet or cold it gets, nobody gets to go home. A waterproof hat is a good idea unless the weather is guaranteed fine for the day.
Early in the season it can be difficult as it may be cold in the morning and hot by mid-day. Beating makes you hot. In between drives it can get cold. This tends to bother women more than men.
Several thin layers under your jacket that can be removed as the temperature rises are a good idea. If you can’t leave them in the game cart or in the shoot wagon you will need to stuff them in a pocket or tie them around your waist.
At the end of the day
When you finish your first day’s beating you will probably be shattered. But in a nice way. Beating is a great calorie burner and if you do it regularly can keep you pretty fit.
If the other beaters are trooping off to the pub for a pint it is a good idea to go along with them. You’ll get chance to chat and find out what other shoots they beat on, and learn a lot just by listening to them.
You’ll also be able to get some feedback on whether or not you should bring your dog next time. We’ll look at taking your dog beating in another article.
Beating is pretty addictive, so be prepared to be hooked. And have fun!
How about you?
Do you remember your very first time beating? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments box below!
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